The illusion of magic

Oliver To

Simon Ma, a veteran magician, demonstrates his professionalism by making full preparations before every show to surprise and entertain his audiences.

I am not a superstitious person but I think that some people were born to do what they were destined to do and that seems to be the case in my career path.

Shortly after I finished my junior school and under the influence of my father, who used to be a magician in a local circus troupe, I enrolled in a similar establishment and trained as an acrobat. Having done that for 14 years I switched to become a magician performing tricks I had picked up when I worked as an acrobat and, since then, I have been a professional magician for 25 years.

As a professional magician I don't work to a nine-to-five schedule and I don't get annual leave. Big holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Lunar New Year, and statutory holidays such as the Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn Festivals are the busiest times for me and I have many performances to do.

Business is also generated by people who have visited my company website, through the Yellow Pages and referrals by friends. Production agencies are the most important sources to help me get jobs.

My jobs can range from small family functions for 50 people to corporate functions serving a few hundred guests.

When I receive a job order from a corporate client there are many things to prepare before the show.

First I need to meet the client to understand more about the function, the number of guests, theme of the party, special requests to be addressed at the performance and whether the client would like to throw some friendly pranks to work up the atmosphere during the show.

After that, I need to visit the site of the performance. This is an important step as the environment has a lot to do with the success of the performance.

For example, some hotels have rooms installed with mirrored walls and ceilings. That would not be a good venue to perform magic shows. Mirrors are the biggest problem for magicians because they can show the secret behind an act of illusion.

Duration of a standard magic performance usually lasts from 45 minutes to an hour but varies depending on the client's budget. I need to time each element of the programme precisely with my assistant so that we can come up with gags at appropriate intervals to make people laugh to build a good atmosphere.

A successful magic performance does not only focus on tricks that bring the audience surprises but you need to make people laugh at the right time.

Props are the second most important thing to facilitate the performance. I use inanimate objects and animals such as rabbits, pigeons, mice or snakes to help tricks fit into the theme of the function.

Animals used for magic performances need to be well trained so that they will do what you expect.

The training can take weeks or months to get the animals working as my partners.

After sorting out all the key issues I have to tend to the music that will be played during the performance.

Although the music is the last item on my checklist, its importance is equal to a well written sentence, complete with a full stop.